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Modified and Alternative Curriculum Expectations for Students with Disabilities

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended modified and alternative curriculum expectations for students with disabilities.

The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the publicly-funded K-12 school system. However, students and educators with disabilities also face  barriers in other school settings, including:

  • Private schools
  • Pre-school programs, such as early literacy programs

Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming K-12 education standards.

Modified and Alternative Curriculum Expectations for Students with Disabilities

Many students with disabilities learn all subjects under the provincial curriculum. They may use accommodations, like communication supports or accessible formats. However, these students learn the same course content as their non-disabled peers, at the same grade level.

Alternatively, other students learn certain subjects using modified expectations. These students study with their peers, but receive grades based on fewer criteria, or at lower grade levels. For example, a grade four student with an intellectual disability may study math at a grade two level. However, the student remains in their grade four classroom. Moreover, the student studies other subjects at grade level.

In addition, students may need to study alternative or expanded subjects, to learn skills that are specific to the needs of their disabilities. For example, students who are blind or visually impaired need to learn orientation and mobility (O and M) skills, so that they can travel safely with white canes. Similarly, students with speech disabilities may work with a speech-language pathologist at school. Likewise, students may need to learn:

  • Organizational skills
  • Social skills
  • Self-regulation skills
  • Daily living skills, such as:

However, the Committee reports that not all students who could benefit from alternative curriculum are receiving it. Therefore, the Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education should conduct a review of their current expectations for alternative curriculum. Moreover, the Ministry should improve these expectations and provide resources to help staff identify students who should be directly learning and practicing certain skills. For instance, school staff could use improved alternative curriculum expectations to recognize more students needing support to enhance their organization or social skills.

Resources for Alternative Curriculum Expectations

Furthermore, the Ministry should create or provide resources that teachers and other professionals can use to deliver alternative curriculum. These resources should help staff create lessons that meet the needs of each student. For example, students who are blind and who have other disabilities may need modified O and M lessons. All school boards should base their delivery of alternative curriculum on resources such as the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) and Canadian National Standards for the Education of Children and Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities.

Similarly, the Ministry should create an expanded curriculum to support the needs of students with developmental disabilities. School boards and other stakeholders in education should create and share resources to deliver this curriculum.

In addition, when the Ministry develops new provincial curriculum, it should determine whether students with various disabilities will need expanded or alternative curriculum. For instance, the Ministry should consider the needs of students who have:

  • Low-incidence disabilities
  • Episodic disabilities
  • Invisible disabilities
  • Brain injury
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Neurodiversity

Moreover, school boards should ensure that teachers and other staff have the time they need to learn about, plan, and deliver modified and alternative curriculum.

Finally, the Ministry and school boards should ensure that students enrolled in a modified or alternative curriculum have the credits they need to obtain their high school diplomas. Students should know about the many program pathways open to them, such as gaining credits through apprenticeship programs. Moreover, school boards should have written processes to support these students in their transitions after high school, such as to:

Modified and alternative curriculum should prepare students for a variety of educational and career opportunities after high school.